It’s not how you start, rather it’s how you finish.
After a 3-4 start to the season, Petal rides into the Class 6A South State Championship having won six in a row and sporting loads of confidence.
Last week, the Panthers avenged an earlier-season loss to Brandon. But in Friday’s contest at Panther Stadium, they will face a Meridian team looking to get revenge on them. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Petal narrowly defeated Meridian in double-overtime, 28-27 on Oct. 23. Since that loss, Meridian has also been on a tear, winning four consecutive games. The Wildcats started their revenge tour last week against Oak Grove – who had beaten them 24-21 earlier in the season –by knocking off the Warriors, 35-29.
Running back Stephon Huderson led the way for the Panthers in last week’s upset win over Brandon with a four-touchdown performance. But for Petal to get past Meridian and advance to the State Championship, it will need more than Huderson. It will have to lean on the arm of quarterback Samuel Hopper, who has come on strong of late.
“He’s been big for us,” Boyles said. “He’s gotten more confidence than he had earlier in the year. Earlier in the year he would get kind of down if he didn’t start off well. But now he’s got more confidence in himself, in the wide receivers and their routes and the offense as a whole.”
Helping Hopper transition into a more viable threat has been the presence of wide receivers Nigel Wood and Tanner Estill. With both receivers healthy, Hopper has taken advantage of teams who have played tighter coverage and stacked the line of scrimmage.
Getting Hopper in rhythm early will be key. That happened against Brandon last week, which allowed the Panthers to get their running game going.
But with Division I talent littering the Wildcat defense, the climb will be steep for Petal. Zaire Jones, Quincy Letnon, Raekwon Davis and Julius Turner contained Oak Grove’s high-octane offense, and according to Boyles, the Panthers will be tested by the vaunted Meridian defense.
Boyles also said in-game adjustments will be key in the game as well.
“You know their coaches are talented over there, just like ours are,” Boyles said. “But it’s going to come down to more than that. Getting in rhythm on offense early. Then, getting off the field on third downs. That’s going to be key, too. We have to get our defense off the field on third downs and then on offense we have to be good on third downs and keep our defense off the field.”